Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

He's gonna let me tend the rabbits.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Of Mice and Men is the story of Lennie and George. Lennie and George are California ranch workers in the Salinas valley.  They travel from ranch to ranch bucking barley to make money.  They had to leave Weed (their previous ranch) because Lennie hung onto a girl's dress and wouldn't let go. Lennie is slow, but sweet, and he likes to touch things because he likes the way they feel. George sticks by Lennie and looks out for him.  When the book starts, Lennie and George are on their way to a new ranch. They work there for a few days, and they're happy there. The other workers are kind for the most part (Slim, their boss, Crooks, the stable buck, Carlson, Candy, Whit, and Curley).  Curley is the ranch owner's son, and he has a bad temper. He always thinks the other men are after his wife (because his wife is always hanging around the other men) and he picks a fight with Lennie over it. Lennie breaks Curley's hand (unintentionally) but they agree to tell everyone it got caught in a machine so Lennie won't get in trouble because Curley started it.  Lennie and George dream of "getting a stake" and having their own land with animals and living off the land, just the two of them. Candy hears them talking and wants to join them, so they let him in on the secret. Crooks likes the idea, too, but he decides he's not interested because he feels isolated because he's black.  One day, when Curley's wife is in the barn with Lennie, Lennie tells her that he likes to pet things because he likes the way they feel.  She's a little taken aback at first, but then she tells him that she understands, and she talks about how soft her hair is, and that she likes to just stroke it sometimes in the morning when she's brushing it. She lets Lennie touch it, but he won't let go, and when she starts screaming, he covers her mouth because he doesn't want to get in trouble with George. She keeps struggling, so he shakes her, harder than he realizes, and he breaks her neck. Lennie realizes he's done a bad thing, and he runs off to the meadow where George told him to go if he ever got into any trouble. George realizes what's happened, and he goes off with the men to hunt down Lennie. George realizes that this time they can't run away.  He finds Lennie before the others do, and he talks to Lennie about the land they're going to have and the rabbits that he will let Lennie tend to. George quietly takes Carlson's gun, raises it to the back of Lennie's head, and shoots him before the others can get to him.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

As you can see, I read this book in a day. Really in a span of about 3 hours. It's only 100 pages long, so it's practically an extended short story. I'd never read it for school, but unfortunately I didn't have my own spoiler alert, and in reading an article in the NY Times the other day, I read the lines, "in Of Mice and Men, when George shoots Lennie"; only I thought I had remembered the line "when Lennie shoots George", so I was thinking that would happen instead. But it makes more sense that it was George who shot Lennie.

If you haven't read this book, go read it right now. It's beautiful and poignant, and like I said, you can read it before you go to bed tonight!

A few thoughts...

-I love Steinbeck's descriptions. This is the third Steinbeck I've read for the blog (East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath) and all of them take place in California, which is where Steinbeck grew up. He paints with words, and in a heartbeat you're in the valley with George and Lennie, smelling and hearing and feeling what they feel. He talks about "tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark" and he says that the "water has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight".

-Steinbeck describes Lennie as being bear-like in the beginning of the book, and talks about Lennie dragging his big paws through the pond. It reminded me of the bulgy bear in Narnia (he can't be a Marshal - he will suck his paws!) and it seemed like the perfect image for Lennie.

-My copy of the book is replete with one word: "aw". Lennie is full of good intentions and childlike innocence, and there are so many moments where I just wanted to reach out to him and pat him on the shoulder.

-Lennie likes to pet things (as mentioned above) but he has a hard time keeping the things he pets alive. In the beginning of the book, George makes him get rid of a dead mouse he's been keeping in his pocket to pet, and even after George throws the mouse across the pond, Lennie goes back to fetch it and George makes him get rid of it again, at which point Lennie argues, " I don't know why I can't keep it. It ain't nobody's mouse. I found it lyin' right beside the road." To which George replies, "That mouse ain't fresh, Lennie; and besides, you've broke it petting it." That mouse definitely ain't fresh, Lennie.

Lennie also gets a puppy at the ranch, which is super adorable, and he keeps going to play with the puppies even though Slim and George tell him the puppies are too young to be held. Just before Curley's wife comes in, Lennie is bemoaning the fact that he's accidentally killed his pup by being too forceful in playing with it. This made me cry.

-The title of this post is a reference to Lennie and George's dream of owning land. George tells Lennie that if he's good, he gets to tend to the rabbits. When they're falling asleep one night, Lennie says, "Let's have different color rabbits, George." George answers, "Sure we will. Red and blue and green rabbits, Lennie. Millions of 'em."

-The workers reference the fact that Curley keeps one hand in a glove all the time, and they say the glove is full of Vaseline. Curley claims he's "keeping that hand soft for his wife." I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what that's in reference to.

-Curley's wife is a flirt, and Steinbeck calls it "the eye". They keep saying she's "got the eye for Slim and Carlson and Whit." This just seemed funny to me. We can stop saying that girls are flirty, or skanky - they've got THE EYE!

-Candy is old and he's missing a hand because of an accident on the ranch. He has an old dog who's going blind and can't really walk and, according to Carlson, stinks. Carlson tells Candy he should put the dog out of his misery, and when no one else will disagree, Candy reluctantly agrees to let Carlson shoot him. The men are all sitting around pretending not to care, but Steinbeck points out the silence and the men's failed attempt at conversation as they wait for the sound of the shot. This was such a sad moment; Candy looking from face to face to find one person who would let him keep his dog, and finding none.

-When Lennie first gets one of Slim's pups, he tries to sneak it in to bed with him. George tells him to put the pup back, to which Lennie replies, "What pup, George? I ain't got no pup." After which George walks over to Lennie and pulls the pup out of Lennie's shirt. Adorable.

-The men talk about going to a "cat house" which I think is a whorehouse. When they're comparing the two houses in town, they reference Susy as saying, "My girls is clean an' there ain't no water in my whisky." Mm, clean girls and water-free whisky - what more could you ask for?

-Lennie reminded me of Benjy in The Sound and the Fury; people sort of reluctantly stand up for him, but it's well known that there's not really a place in society for him. In doing research for my education class, I found out that until the 1960's, most students with disabilities were educated in the home or not at all. Only after the IDEA act did we start providing special education services in public school. It's interesting (and saddening) to think about how mentally disabled people fit into their families' lives then and I hope that there are more supports for them now.

-The men in this book all seem really tender; I felt like if a harsh wind blew their way, they might just fall over.  I wanted to give them all a hug and give them their ranch to tend rabbits and grow alfalfa in.

-The scene when Lennie accidentally kills his pup was heartbreaking:  "'Now I won't get to tend the rabbits. Now he won't let me.' He rocked himself back and forth in his sorrow."

-When Lennie senses George is mad at him, he offers to go away to a cave. He also asks (when George pulls out a can of beans for dinner) whether they have any ketchup, and when George says no, Lennie says that's okay - if there was ketchup, he'd give it all to George. At the end, when Lennie has run away back to the meadow, he says to himself, "I can go right off there an' find a cave.' And he continued sadly, 'an' never have no ketchup - but I won't care. If George don't want me...I'll go away. I'll go away."

This book was beautiful and heartbreaking. Lennie quickly became one of my favorite characters in literature. I want to get him something fluffy and soft that is strong and he won't be able to accidentally kill. I'll find that something for you, Lennie, and then you can tend the rabbits.

Onwards I fly, over the blue jay's den. Under the cardinal's cave. Hm.. that's not it, is it?

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